NEW YORK — Navigating from one end of Grand Central Station to the other is always a matter of skill and luck. On January 21, it was a matter of sheer determination — a feeling that radiated from the Women’s March protesters who kept pouring into the train station from all corners of New York City and its neighboring cities and suburbs beyond.
Though some New Yorkers opted to travel a few hours south for the main march in Washington, DC, an estimated 400,000 people took to the streets of New York City, where Donald Trump was born and raised and where he built his iconic real estate business. Still, in the 2016 election, Democrat Hillary Clinton won New York state, where she served as a senator, with 60 percent of the state’s vote.
For several hours, the streets were packed with women, men, and children holding signs about issues raising from climate change to immigration to Trump’s seemingly cozy relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The sporadic chants that broke out were just as varied: “Say it loud, say it clear / immigrants are welcome here,” “White supremacy needs to go,” and one of the more popular, “This is what democracy looks like.”
These sentiments might resonate throughout the Women’s March protests nationwide, but the New York City contingent filed up Fifth Avenue toward Trump Tower, the black glass skyscraper the president calls home — and the New Yorkers out in force the day after his inauguration were quick to disavow Trump as one of their own.
“He’s not a real New Yorker,” said Martha Edelson point blank. A 56-year-old protester who was born and raised in Manhattan, Edelson expressed shock that “this man is our president,” saying she remembered disliking Trump in the ’80s for his real estate development dealings. “He was always brash and selfish and narcissistic, but now … something else has happened that’s more serious.” She trailed off, shrugged with a grimace.
Walking off the main route, the streets were still teeming with protesters clutching signs, adjusting their pink pussy hats, taking pictures, starting chants. Middle-aged women, who seemed to make up a significant portion of the protest in general, lamented the fact that they weren’t done protesting — would they ever be done protesting?
Kids slung around their parents’ shoulders waved signs sporting Shepard Fairey illustrations and quoting Malala Yousafzai. One boy, trying to stay awake in his mother’s arms, clutched a manila folder with a simple finger-painted message: “Trump should be nice.”
Reaching the end of the protest, many were disappointed to realize that the two blocks surrounding Trump Tower itself had been cut off from marchers. The protest ended at 56th Street within eyesight of the tower. At one point, a man in a black suit inside the building came to a window a few stories up, to look down at the masses below.
Once protesters hit the barricades, they filtered through the adjacent streets off Fifth Avenue. There, Shannon Spangler, a 25-year-old Dallas transplant who now lives in Brooklyn, took a break from high-fiving other protesters to tell me how floored she was that Trump could push the policies he does after growing up in New York City.
“It terrifies me to think that all the progress we’ve made in this amount of time is going to be repealed by someone who could walk through these streets and see all these people and know that the ‘other’ is not to be feared,” Spangler said. “It’s to be celebrated. It makes no sense to me.”
Other New Yorkers shared similar sentiments of disgusted exhaustion.
Leslie and Latisha, two protestors who live upstate, echoed this idea with both defiance and not a little sadness. “I don’t want division,” said Latisha, holding a banner that read, “We are here indivisible,” decorated with painted faces across the color spectrum. “In the wake of the negativity, I feel that this [protest] is positive, and that it brings everyone together.”
But when asked what it means to her as a New Yorker to have New Yorker Donald Trump in the White House, Latisha’s face fell. “It’s hurtful, actually,” she said. “It’s hurtful.”
Mildred Taylor, attending with a group of fellow retired women from the area, was adamant that Trump’s campaign and inauguration speech proved that his main priority is “himself” and “the people like him.”
“It’s obvious to us that he’s bringing back — and has brought about — division,” Taylor continued. “We know what division can lead to. Divide and conquer. This is what he’s all about.”
But at the New York City march, unity was much more the order of the day — more specifically, unity against Trump. No matter the slogan on their T-shirts, no matter which issue they held closest to their hearts, there was one chant that kept coming back to unite them: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”